Researchers Ramp Up Plasma Studies As Potential COVID-19 Treatment

Apr 14, 2020
Originally published on April 15, 2020 5:20 pm

Researchers began studying the use of convalescent plasma several weeks ago as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Labs in  Dayton are collecting donations from people who have recovered from the disease.

As WVXU reported, Community Blood Center in Dayton collected its first donation April 6. Hoxworth in Cincinnati announced it would also do collections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved researchers to use convalescent plasma on March 24.

Dayton-based Premier Health reported on April 9 it was the first in the nation to use Mayo Clinic protocols through its partnership with Community Blood Center. CBC collected those first donations April 14 from frontline health and public safety workers.

"It's good to be able to do something with this," says Steve Norris of Troy, Ohio. "We hear all about the negative aspects of COVID and there's plenty of them. But those who have recovered might have something in their blood to help people who are really, really sick. No sense in waiting when there are people really sick and dying."

Norris is a police officer, firefighter and EMT in Oakwood. He says his symptoms started with a cough and by the time he was diagnosed as positive for COVID-19, he was nearly recovered.

"People of all blood types are needed for this effort," said Dr. Roberto Colón, system vice president of quality and safety, Premier Health. "We encourage providers in the ICU, hospitalists, and primary care providers with patients recovering from COVID-19 to follow up with their patients and make them aware of this opportunity.

UC and UC Health are also preparing to collect donations.

"In initial cases, patients with severe COVID-19 who have been treated with convalescent plasma have shown improvement, but more research is needed," says Dr. Moises Huaman, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine at the UC College of Medicine and the local principal investigator on this protocol. "With no other approved treatment options currently available, this therapy is worth exploring, especially for the sickest COVID-19 patients."

Universities and medical research institutions around the country are studying the treatment as part of the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, a program organized by researchers from 57 institutions in 46 states.

UC and UC Health are registered with the research protocol from the Mayo Clinic, which is leading the national Expanded Access to Convalescent Plasma for the Treatment of Patients with COVID-19 Program.

"According to the Mayo Clinic, people who recover from COVID-19 do so, at least in part, because their blood contains antibodies which are capable of fighting the virus that causes the illness," UC writes in a statement. "Participating in a national, multicenter protocol will allow for analysis of many participants who receive plasma to help determine if this treatment is safe and effective, according to Huaman."

Huaman points out the use of convalescent plasma dates to the 1890s and has been used to treat measles, polio, SARS, Ebola, and H1N1 flu.

How It Works

COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) is transfused to people with the coronavirus. Antibodies in the CCP are proteins that may help them fight the infection, Community Blood Center (CBC) of Dayton explains.

CCP donors must be symptom free for 28 days. Recipients must give informed consent before receiving the transfusion of one unit of convalescent plasma.

Looking For Donors

"The length of this project will depend on other parallel clinical trials that are looking at whether this strategy or other strategies are effective or not," says UC's Huaman. "As we gain more knowledge of what actually works, we will be able to determine the long-term usefulness of convalescent plasma. If in the future, through clinical trials, we find out that convalescent plasma or other treatments are beneficial, then they may become routine clinical practice for COVID-19 patients."

An emergency department nurse in Cincinnati's Christ Hospital Health Network was one of the first in Southwest Ohio to donate CCP on April 8.

"As a nurse, wanting to help people, with all that's going on right now, I wanted to help as much as I can," says Lindsey Hayko, who donated at CBC.

She doesn't know where she got the disease. After testing positive March 23, she recovered at home and was cleared to return to work on April 6.

"I was very fortunate," she says. "My symptoms were not severe. I didn't have to go to the hospital. I stayed at home for two weeks and I’m back at work."

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center transfused its first patient in central and northern Ohio on April 13.

This 'compassionate use' therapy shows promise to lessen the severity or shorten the length of COVID-19," says Dr. Scott Scrape, a pathologist and director of Transfusion Medicine.

How To Donate

Hoxworth:

  • Have recovered from a documented infection of COVID-19 and have been symptom free for at least 28 days.
  • Believe they had COVID-19. The product will be tested for antibodies following donation. If your plasma does not contain high levels of antibodies to COVID-19, it may be used to help save the lives of other patients.

Community Blood Center:

  • Have been tested positive for COVID-19 in the past.
  • Have fully recovered from COVID-19 illness.
  • Have been tested again and test negative for COVID-19 if it has been at least 14 days since their last symptom OR at least 28 days have passed since their last symptom in which case retesting is not required.
  • In areas where antibody testing is available, proof of your exposure to and recovery from COVID-19 can be determined and the above criteria does not need to be met. However, the antibody testing is currently unavailable in much of the country.
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